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Name of Work

Stravinsky, Igor (1882-1971)
Septet (1993, Stravinsky)

Movements:
Metronome: Quartet note = 88
Passacaglia
Gigue

Performances:


Oct 17, 1993



Joseph Genualdi, Viola
Robert Swan, Viola
Kenneth Kulosa, Cello
Larry Combs, Clarinet
Bruce Grainger, Bassoon
Gail Williams, Horn
Deborah Sobol, Piano


Oct 18, 1993



Joseph Genualdi, Viola
Robert Swan, Viola
Kenneth Kulosa, Cello
Larry Combs, Clarinet
Bruce Grainger, Bassoon
Gail Williams, Horn
Deborah Sobol, Piano

STRAVINSKY - Septet

Composed in 1952-53

"In the Septet," writes music critic Michael Steinberg, "we meet an ever more exploratory Stravinsky, but is that not really the old Stravinsky too? [...] He changed manners, conventions, surfaces, techniques many times, and angered lots of his contemporaries by doing so. But the voice and the spirit are one. He is always and unmistakably Stravinsky, grave and funny, elegant, clean, inventive, energetic, surprising, the most universal of 20th-century masters."

Stravinsky began angering his contemporaries in 1913 when the Paris premiere of his new work for the Ballets Russes, The Rite of Spring, unleashed a riot. It is worth recalling, though - and characteristic in a way — that a concert performance of the same music in the same city a year later produced a standing ovation. Initially shocking, Stravinsky's musical innovations were usually revealed in the end to be part of a continuous, logical progression, the "new" composer firmly rooted in the "old" one, as Steinberg reminds us when he notes the ongoing unity of "the voice and the spirit."

The colorful, large-scale ballet scores of Stravinsky's youth — The Firebird and Petrouchka in addition to The Rite of Spring - were rooted in the 19th-century tradition, though their sound unmistakably reveals the composer's striking originality. Later, in the 1920s and 30s, he would turn for inspiration to the logic, discipline, and elegance of the music of the 18th century; "I like exact limits," he once wrote, and he found such limits in the strict formal procedures of an earlier day: sonata form, characteristic of the works of Haydn and Mozart, and the fugal procedures and dance-rhythm patterns that characterized the works of Bach and the other Baroque masters. A 1920s Stravinsky ballet, Pulcinella — scored for a small orchestra with three solo voices, and based on melodies attributed to various composers from the Italian Baroque — is as different as can be from the sound world of The Firebird.

A Stravinsky composition from 1938, the "Dumbarton Oaks" concerto for 16 instruments, is based on the style of Bach's "Brandenburg Concertos," which are written for varying combinations of soloists partnered by a chamber-sized orchestral ensemble. Linked to the "Dumbarton Oaks" Concerto is the Septet for winds, strings, and piano, completed in 1953 and premiered the following year, under Stravinsky's direction, at the same locale as the earlier work: the Dumbarton Oaks Research Library near Washington, D.C.

Stravinsky's Wind Octet of the early 1920s has sometimes been cited as an exemplar of his neo-Classical style; the Septet of 30 years later, scored for an ensemble of similar size but with more variety of timbre, shows him combining the neo-Classicism with some of the elements of another major trend in 20th-century music, the serial procedures evolved by Arnold Schoenberg, Alban Berg, and Anton Webern. Without being based on a 12-tone row in the strict fashion of the serialists, the Septet is still generated thematically by means of a single series of notes: heard at the very start of the first movement, these notes are then reversed in sequence to form the subject of a fugal passage. The Passacaglia movement takes its main theme from the same series, but the tones are scattered out among the parts of four disparate instruments: clarinet, cello, viola, and bassoon. The word "passacaglia" was used by Baroque composers to describe a piece based on a single, constantly-elaborated theme; in this movement Stravinsky constructs a set of nine variations, all quite short, and all laid out contrapuntally as miniature canons, presenting the theme forwards and backwards and inverted. The concluding Gigue continues the emphasis on counterpoint, as subdivisions of the ensemble - the strings, and the winds with piano - play a series of fugues, whose subject is based on the same sequence of notes that unifies and informs this remarkably ingenious composition.

Program Notes by Andrea Lamoreaux

Performed October 17 and 18, 1993



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